NEW YORK CITY — New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez was banned through the end of the 2014 season Monday but vowed to fight the sanction in the latest doping scandal to blacken baseball’s image.
Hours before he was to make his season debut for the Yankees in Chicago on Monday night, Rodriguez confirmed he would appeal.
But he refused to answer a point-blank question as to whether Major League Baseball was accurate in charging that he used performance-enhancing drugs, including testosterone and human growth hormone.
“We’ll have a forum to discuss all of that and we’ll talk about it then,” Rodriguez said.
“I don’t know what the motivation is for any of this. But I’m going to respect the process. I feel good that we have an opportunity to do that in the right platform. And we’re going to state our case.”
A dozen other players accepted 50-game suspensions over their links to the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Florida.
MLB’s announcement of the bans ended weeks of speculation over the fate of Rodriguez, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player who baseball officials say not only used banned drugs “over the course of multiple years” but also acted to “obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation” of Biogenesis and its link to baseball players.
Rodriguez’s suspension was to take effect on Thursday, but he can continue to play while his appeal before arbitrator Fredric Horowitz is pending.
He was scheduled to bat clean-up and play third base for the Yankees against the White Sox in Chicago on Monday, his first major league game after completing rehab from pre-season hip surgery and a quadriceps injury.
Rodriguez is slated to miss 211 regular-season games. The sanction might not be as devastating as the lifetime ban MLB was reportedly considering, but for a 38-year-old player it could prove a career-ender.
“I’ve had two hip surgeries. I’ve had two knee surgeries. I’m fighting for my life,” said Rodriguez, who called the last seven months clouded by injury and doping accusations “a nightmare” and the worst time of his life.
“I have to defend myself,” he said. “If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”
His appeal could hinge on whether MLB Commissioner Bud Selig exceeded his authority with a 211-game ban, when baseball’s anti-doping policy calls for a 50-game suspension for a first steroid offense and 100 games for a second.
Rodriguez admitted in 2009 to using steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers between 2001 and 2003, but that was before baseball’s current anti-doping rules were in place.
The latest scandal to touch him further taints his achievements on the field, including a 2009 World Series title with the Yankees and 647 career home runs that put him fifth on Major League Baseball’s all-time career list.
Selig said the outcome of the Biogenesis investigation was proof of the effectiveness of baseball’s anti-doping policies, which have been toughened in recent years after complaints from US lawmakers.
The sweeping suspensions are based on evidence gathered in the investigation rather than on positive drug tests — so-called non-analytical positives.
They are the most comprehensive doping sanctions imposed by a sport that has long struggled to get to grips with the issue.
Several stars have admitted to doping, and such icons as US home run king Barry Bonds and pitching legend Roger Clemens escaped doping charges in court cases only after their legacies were tainted.
“As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field,” Selig said.
“We are committed to working together with players to reiterate that performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game.”